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From chaos to clarity: Simplifying product strategy with a step by step canvas

In this article, our very own Sandra Davey, agile product coach, highlights the importance of a cohesive product strategy and shares a streamlined, user-friendly step by step canvas suitable for all experience levels.

During our last 2023 session at Product Tank Sydney, and as one of the coordinators, I facilitated a discussion with three product leaders on a provocatively titled topic: “The death of product management.” Our aim was to explore the global state of product management and specifically explore the landscape in Australia.

Considering Marty Cagan’s big risks for product managers, we dedicated most of the session to unravelling value risk and business viability risk.

“A recurring theme emerged— a notable lack of business acumen in the current generation of product managers.”

Many Australian product managers (PMs) are proficient in building, delivering, and maintaining products, but lack the capability or experience to explore, understand, contextualise and express value and viability.

Value and viability is lacking

To be fair to these capable Product Managers and product teams, many of them don’t actually get to engage in or lead activities such as market research (competitive landscaping, market sizing, PESTEL analysis), value proposition and positioning for different stages of growth, or the holy grail for many of us, anything to do with money. Generating profit or investment, P&L management, revenue analysis, or pricing strategy.

“When I think about value, usability, feasibility and viability, Australian product managers and product teams are solid at building, delivering, even maintaining products, but many lack the capability or experience in the value and viability sides of product management.”

The power of product strategy

In essence, most product managers and products lack a cohesive product strategy.

We know how important company strategy is, and product strategy is no different. Without a product strategy, it’s not clear what unique choices and trade-offs should be made in order to succeed in the market. Without rationalising these choices, product roadmaps are merely wishlists without direction.

Crafting effective product strategies is a vital but often overlooked aspect of successful product management. Too frequently, we see product managers and teams buried in the minutiae of backlogs and roadmaps, struggling to bridge the gap between their work and the overarching goals of the organisation.

A key obstacle is the absence of a clear product strategy. This cohesive force links the backlog and roadmap to the company’s overarching objectives and contextualises where value is to be created. Recognising this challenge, we embarked on a journey to develop a user-friendly product strategy process for product managers, especially those who may not regularly engage in product strategy curation or those with less experience in the business side of product management.

Product strategies are jobs that most product folks do “every so often”, often under pressure and with insufficient time. Because product managers don’t create strategies regularly, many of them aren’t natural at the process, so when we need to create one, there’s a good chance we freeze. When we recover from the foetal position, we wonder “Where on earth do I start?”

Making product strategy less daunting

“Product strategy is hard” and this isn’t some profoundly new insight! Martin Eriksson says it too in his recent post on strategy, and he makes solid arguments around what it is and what it isn’t. Strategy is “… the hard work of looking at your data, research, discovery, and more to derive insight and understand what you think is your unique bet on the future.”

He argues that “there is no simple framework or canvas you can fill in and expect a strategy at the other end”; the point he makes here is that what counts is not the canvas but the hard work, the thinking, the collaborating behind it.

We’re in sync with this..

Because, for many of us, we create product strategies so rarely, knowing where to start, what data and insights to gather and areas to explore, product strategy can be daunting.

So to help ourselves and our clients not find this process so daunting, we created a Product Strategy canvas and after using it with clients and industry mates, we refined it. Now, we want to share it with the world.

Source: Product Strategy miro – State of the business frame

We’ve streamlined the process, not the research, the thinking, or the debating. By streamlining the process, you can concentrate on the substance of your strategy and the collaboration it demands.

It’s repeatable, flexible, lightweight and non-linear. Drawing inspiration from others who have written on this subject and approaches out there, but actively avoiding a step-by-step guide, we have tried to simplify the intricate process of product strategy creation, catering to those who find it daunting or simply lack time.

Coming back to Martin’s point, it will only be as good as the work you put into it; the data gathering, the discovery efforts, the debates, and the discussion. This is tough work, so we hope the canvas becomes your prompter, your guide, for the hard work to come.

We’re mindful that one size doesn’t fit all. For junior product professionals or those just starting out in product management, this might be a lot to wrap your head around. Having said that, knock yourself out and give it a go, if nothing else, you’ll learn a lot, particularly about the different areas you need to find out about to craft a decent product strategy. For seasoned directors of product, CPOs, or experienced strategists, you likely have your own approach, but there might be something useful here for you as well.

The canvas serves as a beacon, lifting you from the quagmire of your backlog to provide a clear view of the bigger picture, enabling you to chart a strategic course for your product.

We’ve shouldered the burden of refining this tool, ensuring it’s straightforward yet robust and have included a real-world example to help and inspire you. We’ve tested and iterated our canvas with clients, workshop participants, and industry mates and we’re now unleashing our Product Strategy Canvas in Miro’s Miroverse for free, for anyone, under a Creative Commons Licence.

In essence, it’s a go-to tool to prompt you through the hard, hard work of strategy. A great product strategy will provide clarity, it’ll be super focused, and that will help you to transform, realign and or link the chaos of your backlog to a comprehensive and collaborative strategy, serving as a singular point of truth for your product journey.

Here it is … enjoy … the rest is up to you 🙂

If you have questions, feedback, comments or would just like to say hi, feel free to get in touch with me.

This article was originally published on Mind the Product -

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